Today is opening day of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, which is being touted as the greenest Olympics ever. But the warm weather and rain of late at one of the venues has forced the organizers to haul in snow via truck and helicopter (because the Winter Olympics don’t really work without snow). Since trucks and helicopters emit a lot of carbon, critics and protesters are calling out the Vancouver Olympics for their somewhat hypocritical measures to save the 17 day event from total meltdown. So we have to ask – are the Olympics still green if they have to artificially boost the snow pack?
Just north of the city on the coast is Cypress Mountain, home of the freestyle skiing and snowboarding events. The Northshore Mountains have been experiencing unseasonably warm temperatures and rain for this time of year, so much so that the mountains have been mostly green. The organizers of the event felt it necessary to truck in snow to the venue in order to have a good enough snow pack in order for athletes to practice in this last week and to have enough for the games themselves. Dump trucks and helicopters have been used to haul in snow from up to 100 miles north in British Colombia.
So how does this affect Vancouver’s sustainability scorecard? According to the VANOC VP of Sustainability, Linda Coady, even a worst case scenario of trucking in snow and using a helicopter every day for the entire month would only increase their carbon emissions by less than one percent. Officials are predicting that the 2010 Games will produce just 118,000 tonnes of carbon over the life of the seven-year project, compared to 248,000 tonnes in Salt Lake City in 2002 and about 160,000 in Turin, Italy, in 2006. So technically, the use of the helicopters and trucks in a worse case scenario doesn’t tack on a whole lot more emissions.
Officials also say that they plan on offsetting any extra emissions they produce with carbon credits. You may choose to disagree with the how they handle the extra emissions – there are certainly two sides to this coin. Carbon credits certainly aren’t the preferred method of reducing one’s environmental footprint. On the other hand a successful Winter Games is important for the Vancouver area and a lot of money has been dumped into their economy to support a lot of local businesses and employ a ton of people. Think what you want, but the transparency of the Sustainability Committee is definitely commendable, as well as large number of green projects the created. And recently, the David Suzuki Foundation awarded the games a Bronze Metal for their efforts, which is considered very commendable for a sporting event.